What We Bring Home

Marissa Alexander joined the "No Selves to Defend" panel at Color of Violence 4 via Skype. (Photo: Sarah Jane Rhee)
Marissa Alexander joined the “No Selves to Defend” panel at Color of Violence 4 via Skype. (Photo: Sarah Jane Rhee)

Last weekend, I attended the Color of Violence 4 conference in Chicago. According to the event’s website the project was organized “to mark INCITE!’s fifteen years of engaging in grassroots organizing projects, critical conversations, national actions, transnational campaigns, and community building strategies to end colonial, racial, and gender-based violence against women of color, trans and queer people of color, and our communities.”

I have seen the event both praised and critiqued by those who attended, and I have no illusions about this post’s ability to capture the totality of what people experienced in that space. But in an effort to share what some of us thought and felt, I asked a couple of people that I respect to share a few thoughts about what they’re bringing home from the conference.

These are their thoughts, and a few of my own.

Ejeris Dixon

As I walked into the Hyatt I noticed I was already preparing myself to be at a conference.  It’s a habit now where I scope out good places to hide from people with folks I feel safe around.  I think about how I will emotionally manage the hurtful aspects of call out culture.  And I pre-plan responses for the invasive or annoying questions from people I may meet.  Then I realized wait, I’m at the Color of Violence, this is my space.  I relaxed and became more comfortable.  COV4 was an incredible opportunity to feel centered as a cisgender queer black woman.  And it’s something I rarely feel.

At COV4 I experienced the ability to co-facilitate, build analysis, de-escalate violence, and laugh really really hard with some of the folks I admire most throughout the country.  And I have to say the part that was the most inspiring and replenishing was the laughter.  The fact is that for once in a long while I was at a conference and my guard was down.  I am deeply thankful to the conference organizers for creating this space, and I know its not easy.

I also bring back a sense of loss and a recognition of my privilege within the conference.  While INCITE has worked hard and shifted significantly in the last fifteen years towards building a more trans-inclusive space, it was palpable how much work is still needed.  I’m excited for a Color of Violence Conference that goes beyond working for inclusivity for trans and gender non-conforming people to centering the experiences of TGNC people of color.  If we truly believe that centering the experiences of the most marginalized people within our communities creates freedom for all of us, then our next step toward freedom would be for all the plenaries, conference title, and programming to center trans and gender non conforming people.  I think it’s possible and that we’re already on our way.

Ash Stephens

We are only a few days removed from the INCITE! Color of Violence 4 Conference, and I am still digesting the week. I was very excited, humbled, and honestly worried when I was invited to be on the local Chicago organizing committee. Folks from both the Chicago and National committees have been organizing conferences and workshops for years, on top of having tons of experience with anti-violence work, for women and girls of color and queer and trans* people of color. I wanted to find my position amongst this group of amazing organizers, and also learn as much as I could and develop relationships with people coming to the conference.

For me, COV4 felt extremely powerful. As a young Black trans* masculine boi, who is also new to organizing and continuing to develop my activist praxis, I was very excited to share space with everybody. The thought of a bunch of radical people of color discussing Black feminism, healing justice, trans* issues, anti-violence work, sex work, transformative justice, and a bunch of other workshop discussions felt very good to be apart of. More specifically, it felt great to have these conversations in a space that was affirming of my gender identity and expression, as well as the ways that is complicated by my race and age. I am situated in a world that often renders me hyper-visible (especially in terms of incarceration and experiences of state violence) and also invisible. COV4, in conjunction with the National Trans Anti-Violence Convening organized by Transgender Law Center and several other organizations, placed all of this work under one house for four days. Especially on the eve of International Transgender Day of Visibility (03/31/15), being able to listen to, talk with, learn from, and develop relationships with so many trans* and gender non-conforming people of color under one house for four days was priceless to me.

I left COV4 feeling like I really gained new community- from the local Chicago and National committee members, from people coming to the conference, and from people honored at the Trans100. I would say my excitement soared, my sense of humility towards everyone’s hard work is still felt, and my worry about my seat at the table of activism is still every-present. But, I also feel more affirmed that this seat is open for everyone who is committed to a politic that truly interrogates interpersonal and state violence against women and girls of color and queer and trans* people of color, that aims to go Beyond the State.

My Experience

As a queer, indigenous abolitionist living in the city of Chicago, I am very aware of the need to build the kind of spaces that we want to inhabit. As an organizer, I try to keep my work within those spaces grounded in a transformative framework.

But it doesn’t always play out that way.

We all move through life imperfectly, and like many who believe in community accountability processes, there are situations I struggle with, and times when I feel I have to leave people where they are, rather than meeting them where they’re at. That said, I believe in transformative justice, and that overall, it will help us get free. But my concerns and deviations often make me nervous about entering spaces where transformative justice is being taught or discussed. I worry that I’ll feel alienated or dismissed, or that my praxis won’t meet the expectations of those I respect.

Fortunately, that was not how I experienced Color of Violence 4.

On the first night of the conference, I attended the “No Selves to Defend” panel, which was moderated by Mariame Kaba. In a broad sense, the panel captured some of what I feel about transformative justice – that even though I want a world where we address problems through constructive processes, I will always celebrate and prioritize survival. I believe we can construct new ways of living, and build structures within the margins that grow, expand, and push their way into the wider world. But to do this, we must survive.

Seeing Renata Hill, Cece McDonald, Yvonne Swan and Marissa Alexander’s mother appear on the same stage was a profoundly hopeful experience for me, both as an organizer, and as a survivor. I was overwhelmed with gratitude for their voices and their resilience. In a system that tried to strip away the value of their lives, their safety, and their dignity, they endured. They spoke of justice and resistance, and in some cases, the trauma of incarceration, but they also talked about hope, and what keeps it alive.

For me, the most emotional moment of the night was seeing Marissa Alexander’s face appear on a projector screen to join us via Skype. I saw a number of pictures of Marissa over the course of her legal battle, in which she was criminalized for choosing to survive an act of domestic violence, but I had never seen her smile.

Seeing a woman the state tried to crush with despair and deprivation, uncaged and full of laughter, is a revolutionary experience, and as I experienced Marissa’s laughter for the first time, I was celebrating. I was celebrating every teach-in, protest and artistic expression that I’d seen carried out in her name. I was celebrating every minute spent protesting in the cold to lift up her struggle. I was celebrating my friends, whose commitment to seeing Marissa freed has been as inspiring as it has been relentless.

As hundreds of us watched her speak, giggling each time one of Marissa’s children wandered into the frame, I felt like we were all celebrating survival, resilience, and transformation.

That moment was a gift, and I will carry it with me.


Contributors:

Ejeris Dixon is an organizer and political strategist with 15 years of experience working in racial justice, LGBTQ, anti-violence, and economic justice movements.  She currently works as the Founding Director of Vision Change Win Consulting where she partners with organizations to build their capacity and deepen the impact of their organizing programs.  From 2010 – 2013 Ejeris served as the Deputy Director, in charge of the Community Organizing Department at the New York City Anti-Violence Project where she directed national, statewide, and local advocacy efforts on hate violence, domestic violence, and sexual violence.  From 2005 – 2010 Ejeris worked as the founding Program Coordinator of the Safe OUTside the System Collective at the Audre Lorde Project where she worked on creating community based strategies to address hate and police violence.

Ash Stephens is a PhD student at The University of Illinois at Chicago in the Criminology, Law & Justice Department. Ash is also a member of the Chicago organizing team for the Color of Violence 4 Conference and a member of Love & Protect, formerly the Chicago Alliance to Free Marissa Alexander. 

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